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Foreign trade in the early Byzantine Empire: beyond the Silk Road

King's Building, Strand Campus, London

12 Mar
Sappho statue
Part of CHS Late Antique & Byzantine Studies Seminar Series

The Byzantine state monopoly on silk is often referred to as evidence of an imperial policy towards foreign trade that was both carefully managed and designed to maximise state profit. Legislation from the Late Antique/early Byzantine period (c. 300-700), including military treaties, shows a consciousness of profit-loss calculations, but this is by no means the only, or perhaps the most significant factor given consideration. Nor is silk, and the landward routes to the east collectively labelled 'the Silk Road' the only product referred to or, by implication, affected by such legislation. This paper will examine early Byzantine legislative and narrative sources dealing with trade across the imperial frontiers, and situate this in the context of the archaeological evidence associated particularly with trade entering the Byzantine Empire via the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean. Taking a holistic overview of foreign trade, that seeks to understand actions in light of the attitudes, ideologies and material structures that promoted or obstructed them, it becomes possible to close the gap between narratives on the one hand of 'rational economic actors' at state and individual level, and on the other hand of social norms geared towards different and, sometimes, opposed priorities, whether religious, military or cultural.

Rebecca Darley is Lecturer in Medieval History at Birkbeck, University of London. She read History at the University of Cambridge before completing an MA in Greek Archaeology and a PhD in Byzantine studies both at the University of Birmingham. Before taking up post at Birkbeck she also enjoyed a post-doctoral appointment on the international Bilderfahrzeuge project at the Warburg Institute. Her main research interests are monetary and economic history, especially of the western Indian Ocean, Byzantine numismatics, and the wider application of numismatic material.

Part of the Late Antique and Byzantine Studies seminar series.

This event is open to all and free to attend. No booking is required.

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